Start Competing: Death Guard Tactics

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Overview

With the launch of Warhammer 40,000 8th edition’s Dark Imperium boxed set, it was clear that Mortarion’s boys were finally getting some love with a Codex and units all their own. Freed from Codex: Chaos Space Marines, the Nurgle boys got a full book with tons of characters, new vehicles, and an absolutely sick new Primarch. As the de facto “bad guy” half of the 8th edition starter kits and a major fixture in the Conquest releases, Death Guard minis made their way into many players’ collections, only to gather dust as the edition has rolled on. But if you’re a fan of the toughest units the game has to offer, incredibly sick (and we do mean literally “sick” here) models, and representing the slow, inexorable march of death, it’s time to dust off those sprues, dig out your easy-to-build Plague Marines, and start thinking about spreading the good worth of Grandfather Nurgle, because we’ve got a full rundown of the faction designed to help you get the most out of them.

As with the rest of these articles, the idea is not to give an exhaustive review of every unit and option. Instead, we’ll cover each section with a general discussion of the good units, relics and stratagems, point out any traps, and then discuss how these pieces fit into a competitive army. This is primarily a review of the units in the Death Guard Codex, but Death Guard are very good in certain areas so we’ll also cover the units to bring in a soup list as well.

Also keep in mind that any competitive article represents a time and place. This is coming after the release of the 2019 Space Marine Codex.

Strengths

  • Resilience. Death Guard are pretty tough. Most of the army’s exclusive units benefit from extra toughness and the Disgustingly Resilient special rule, making them harder to take down and giving the army some real staying power, even for its 1-wound units.
  • Synergy. The Death Guard have great synergy with other Chaos factions. The Nurgle and Heretic Astartes subfactions both have lots of great abilities and plenty of tricks that can benefit units across multiple books.
  • Able to Move and Fire. In battle-forged armies, Death Guard Infantry and Helbrutes get to ignore the penalty for moving and shooting heavy weapons. That’s a sweet benefit, particularly on Hellforged Contemptors, the best unit in the Chaos armoury.
  • Psychic Powers. The Contagion discipline has a couple of neat tricks you can employ and the Death Guard have some decent Psyker options.
  • Plague Weapons. Most of the models in your army re-roll 1s to Wound natively with at least their melee attack and many will get that benefit with shooting attacks.

Weaknesses

  • Mobility. Death Guard are slooooowwwww. Your most resilient units will often pay for that with a lower Movement stat, making it difficult to run down enemy units with melee combatants.
  • Long-Range Firepower. Death Guard have lots of great mid-range shooting and the ability to fire Rapid Fire weapons twice at 18″ instead of half range, but lack a lot of heavy weapons and long-range firepower in their Codex.
  • Unit Variety. Death Guard don’t have a lot of units, and the units they share with Chaos Space Marines don’t get the same benefits as the rest of the army, causing them to stick out like a sore thumb.
  • Expensive. Outside of Poxwalkers and Cultists, Death Guard units aren’t particularly cheap.
  • Lack of Updates. Death Guard were the second 8th edition codex and it shows. They have none of the new re-rolls that factions enjoy, their Legion trait only applies to Helbrutes and Infantry, and they haven’t seen any new units since the Codex.
  • Few Stratagems. Death Guard could have really benefited from being a Codex Supplement like Ultramarines or Iron Hands. They only have 14 stratagems of their own, with several repeated from Codex: Chaos Space Marines, including Chaos Boon, which is awful and takes up the space of 4 stratagems.

Competitive Rating

Medium-low as a stand alone codex, medium as part of Chaos soup.

There are a few stand-out Death Guard units that may see play in soup lists from time to time, and there have been some clever monofaction lists which have exploited loopholes like flyer bases to do interesting things, but as 8th edition has worn on, these have become less powerful over time (or been errata’d out). Otherwise, they don’t have any of the cooler units that Chaos Space Marines just got access to, and so it can sometimes feel like they’re playing with half a deck. They work best as part of a larger Chaos Soup army, though this is typically either to bring Mortarion, Blightlord Terminators, or Forge World Dreadnoughts.

 

Special Rules

Death Guard have a few special rules unique to their faction (or well, the NURGLE faction), and a few that they share with the broader Chaos faction.

Bolter Discipline

When a unit with this ability stays stationary during the Movement phase (or is a TERMINATOR, BIKER, or HELBRUTE) fires a Rapid Fire bolter weapon, it can make double the number of attacks. A solid update to all Marines (Chaos or otherwise) that showed up in January, Bolter Discipline makes Plague Marines slightly better objective holders and gives Blightlord Terminators a little more firepower.

Death to the False Emperor

When a model with this ability rolls a 6+ to hit in combat with an IMPERIUM unit, it can immediately make an additional attack (these attacks don’t themselves generate additional attacks). Very useful when it’s on, Worthless when it’s not. Much more useful now that the new Marine codex has ensured that more than half the armies you’ll face will cause this to trigger.

Daemonic Ritual

A rule across the Chaos factions, a Death Guard Character can opt to not move during the Movement phase and instead attempt to summon a unit of NURGLE Daemons. You roll up to 3 dice when you do this, and you can summon a unit with power level equal to or less than the result you roll. If you roll doubles, you take a mortal wound, and if you roll triples, you suffer D3 mortal wounds. The summoned unit has to be placed within 12″ of the character and more than 9″ from an enemy model. This is a cooler ability in theory than execution. The theoretical upside to summoning is that you can pick a unit at the moment you summon, giving you a lot of possibilities and the ability to pick a unit that will fit your current situation and opponent. In reality, the only Nurgle Daemons you’re ever really going to want to summon are Plaguebearers, and in most cases you’ll want them on the table from the get-go. The big upside to summoning is that you can summon Daemons without ruining your Death Guard detachment’s faction bonus (they won’t lose Inexorable Advance if the whole detachment is Death Guard and the only daemons are ones that you summon), but you’re seldom going to want to do this with Death Guard.

Disgustingly Resilient

Each time a model with this ability would lose a wound, roll a D6; on a 5+, they do not lose that wound. This is commonly referred to as a “5+ Feel No Pain” save, because that’s how it used to be back in 6th/7th edition. It’s one of the strongest abilities in the game, and it really shines on multi-wound units, where it effectively gives them an additional 1/3 wounds on average (and then some, but the math around DR saves on wounds that were saved by DR is complicated, so it’s easier to just think of it as giving you 33% more wounds). This is just always nice to have, and it’s even better when you can stack it with other bonuses that make you harder to kill, such as cover save bonuses and Miasma of Pestilence.

Hateful Assault

When a unit with this ability performs a charge move, is charged, or performs a heroic intervention, add 1 to its Attacks characteristic for the rest of the phase. This is a new ability that the Chaos Marine factions got with the release of the new Codex: Space Marines and it’s a welcome improvement, immediately making all of the factions’ units stronger and more capable both as Assault troops and at dealing with threats that have charged them. Because of their low Movement, Death Guard can struggle to make it into combat so this particular boost is less useful for them than the other Chaos Marine factions, but it’s notably very good on Blightlord Terminators, and outside of those there will often be situations where they are charged and survive a round of combat, and in those situations Hateful Assault will make your opponents much more likely to regret it.

Plague Weapons

Weapons with this ability re-roll To Wound rolls of 1. Note that it’s not just limited to melee weapons, and most of the units in the Death Guard army have access to at least one Plague Weapon. It’s a good bonus to have, given that Death Guard have neither Lieutenants nor Exalted Champions.

Inexorable Advance

If your army is Battle-forged, all Infantry and Helbrutes in Death Guard detachments can ignore the penalty for moving and firing Heavy weapons or advancing and firing Assault weapons. Also, units with Rapid Fire weapons can shoot twice at a range of 18″ instead of half range. This is an extremely useful ability, primarily because Forge World/Hellforged Dreadnoughts all have the HELBRUTE keyword, meaning that Death Guard Hellforged Contemptors, Deredeos, and Leviathans can all move and fire without incurring the -1 penalty To Hit. The second half is also useful if you’re running Plague Marines or Terminators, you’re going to need to keep moving, and being able to do so while only losing 6″ of double-shooting range is good. It’s also worth noting that if you are souping up a detachment with a mix of units using the NURGLE or HERETIC ASTARTES keywords, this isn’t a particularly rough ability to lose if the detachment doesn’t have a lot of heavy weapons.

Plague Host

This is the standard “Objective Secured” rule that all armies get, which makes your Troops’ claims to Objectives stronger than non-Troops’. Extra useful when your Troops have higher toughness and Disgustingly Resilient to make them harder to shift.

 

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Psychic Powers

Death Guard psykers have access to the Contagion Discipline, which borrows some powers from the Nurgle Daemon psychic powers. This replaces the Dark Hereticus Discipline for Death Guard Sorcerers, so there’s no way to get access to both unless you take another detachment. The discipline has two good powers, a few situationally useful ones, and one that’s just garbage.

  1. Miasma of Pestilence (WC 6).  Pick a friendly DEATH GUARD unit within 18″. Until your next Psychic phase, your opponent subtracts 1 from all Hit rolls that target that unit. This ability is fantastic, and at Warp Charge 6, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting it off when you need it. Useful for protecting your big units and making your opponent really do work to take out your strongest targets. A
  2. Gift of Contagion (WC 7). Pick a visible enemy unit within 18″ and roll a D3 to determine the penalty it gets until your next Psychic phase. 1: The unit gets -1 Attack, 2: The unit gets -1 Strength, 3: The unit gets -1 Toughness. The randomness of this ability means you can’t rely on it to get the Toughness modifier and at Warp Charge 7 it’s overcosted. C
  3. Plague Wind (WC 5). Pick a visible enemy unit within 18″. Roll a D6 for each model in the unit, and it takes a mortal wound for each 6 rolled. This isn’t a particularly useful power most of the time but it’s easy to cast and has no upper limit on dice, so you can potentially get some good use out of it by throwing 5-6 mortal wounds at the kind of 30+ model units that Daemon and Ork armies can throw at you. B
  4. Blades of Putrefaction (WC 5). Pick a friendly DEATH GUARD unit within 18″. Until your next Psychic phase, that unit gets +1 to its To Wound rolls in the Fight phase and Wound rolls of a 7+ in the Fight phase with a Plague Weapon cause a mortal wound in addition to any other damage. The usefulness of this power is limited because it requires you to be fighting in melee, but on the whole getting +1 to your Wound rolls is very useful to have and allows Death Guard to take down much bigger targets. It also combos well with Veterans of the Long War, which gives the unit an additional +1 to Wound and the ability to deal mortal wounds when you roll a 5 or a 6. This is especially great on Mortarion, who can throw out 21 attacks when he charges using the Reaping Mode on his Scythe (though he can’t use VotLW as it’s only for Infantry). Plus you’re still re-rolling 1s to Wound. B
  5. Putrescent Vitality (WC 6). Select a friendly DEATH GUARD INFANTRY unit within 18″ of the psyker. Until the start of your next psychic phase, that unit gets +1 to its Strength and Toughness characteristics. This would be a fantastic ability… if it worked on Daemon Princes or Mortarion. As it is, boosting Toughness is less useful on your T5 units, just because S10 shooting isn’t all that common and it’ll usually be leveled at your vehicles and Monsters. Likewise for boosting strength. Which means this power is only really going to be useful on  your Cultists and Poxwalkers, C
  6. Curse of the Leper (WC 7). Affects the closest visible enemy unit within 14″ of the Psyker. Roll 7 dice, and that unit takes a mortal wound for each roll higher than the unit’s Toughness. This is even worse than most of the alternative Smites that litter 8th edition Codexes, and will generally only come even close to doing much for you when leveled at a T3 unit, where you’ll average 3.5 mortal wounds. And to top it all off, it has significantly shorter range and is harder to cast. If you’re up against a horde, Plague Wind is likely to be a better choice. The exception here is for Mortarion, who can combine this with his Toughness-reducing aura to get a lot more mileage out of it, making it more reliable than Smite as he closes the distance. for scrubsB+ for Mortarion

 

Units

HQ

The Death Guard have access to a number of different HQ units, but only a few are really worth using in competitive setting.

Daemon Prince of Nurgle

These guys are still combat monsters in a Death Guard list, and absolutely worth taking as one of your HQ choices. They get Disgustingly Resilient to bolster their longevity, and their re-roll hits aura applies to both Death Guard and NURGLE DAEMON units and they’re even deadlier now that they have Hateful Assault. They’re also Psykers and know and can cast one power per turn. You’ll usually want that power to be either Miasma of Pestilence or Blades of Putrefaction. Miasma helps protect him from incoming fire if he gets caught outside of your screens and Blades of Putrefaction ups his damage output and has him wounding infantry on a 2+ and most vehicles on a 3+ (though note that since he can’t have a plague weapon, so he can’t get the mortal wounds). The standard loadout for this guy is to give him Wings for mobility and to jump over screens, Malefic Talons, and then the Suppurating Plate relic, which boosts his armor save to 2+ and causes mortal wounds on a 4+ to whatever is attacking him each time he makes a successful save.

Typhus

The original Death Guard character, Typhus offers 1 Wound over a Terminator Sorcerer and a 4+ invulnerable save owing to his Cataphractii armor (he loses 1″ of movement for this, though). He also counts as a LORD OF CONTAGION and has the same aura, but his real benefit is the boost he gives to Poxwalkers: Friendly Poxwalker units get +1 Strength and +1 Toughness within 7″ of Typhus. This is a huge deal and can be very powerful when you’re shambling large hordes of Poxwalkers across the table. Poxwalkers don’t see nearly as much use these days, in part because at 6ppm, you’re better off just paying the extra point to take Plaguebearers, which already get the extra point of Toughness and a better weapon without having to rely on an aura nearby (and can go up to 30 models in a squad and have invulnerable saves). If you take Typhus, this is when you’ll want to use the Putrescent Vitality psychic power, to further boost some nearby Poxwalkers. S5 T5 Poxwalkers are just hilariously vile to deal with.

Finally, he has an extremely strange shooting attack that appears to comprise entirely of shooting moderately accurate plague bees at the enemy. That’s…fine we guess.

Other Pyskers

Outside of the Daemon Prince, Death Guard have access to three psyker options:

Sorcerers

Exactly the same as the Sorcerers in the Chaos Space Marines Codex, except locked into Nurgle and the Contagion Discipline and they can’t take Jump Packs. They don’t have Disgustingly Resilient or the Toughness boost or an invulnerable save, so if you’re taking one, it’s to get the cheapest possible access to the Contagion Discipline. Oh, and they can’t take Jump Packs, because apparently the Death Guard don’t have those. Which hurts them quite a bit. You can also take these in Terminator Armor, in which case they still don’t have Disgustingly Resilient, but they can teleport. Most of the time you’re going to just run a Daemon Prince as your psyker option, or Typhus if you’re going for something a little more “out there.”

Malignant Plaguecasters

Basically Sorcerers, only they get Disgustingly Resilient and the ability to cause mortal wounds to enemy units with 7″ whenever they roll a 7+ for their psychic tests. That’ll happen pretty often, but being within 7″ of an enemy is less likely. to happen. Still lacks an invulnerable save, and most of the time it’s not going to be worth the 20 points to buy DR and the +1 Toughness.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Necrosius the Undying

One of the Forge World character options, created to match the Death Guard Sorcerer model they put out a few years ago. Costs 30 points more than a normal Sorcerer, but comes with +1 Toughness, +2 Wounds, Disgustingly Resilient, a 4+ Invulnerable save, and he gives nearby Poxwalker units within 6″ the ability to re-roll rolls of 1 for their Disgustingly Resilient rolls. Oh and in true Forge World fashion, he has an ability to add 1 to hit rolls for friendly THE TAINTED models within 6″ in the Fight phase, which would be awesome except there’s only one other model in the game with that faction keyword and it’s a Forge World Daemon Prince who has a WS of 2+. The real money is that he knows three psychic powers from the Contagion Discipline and can attempt to deny three psychic powers per phase. There’s not that much of a need for pure Sorcerers in the Death Guard army or detachments these days. but if you need a second HQ who can cast, Necrosius is your best option, even at the higher cost.

Other HQ Units

Chaos Lord

Death Guard Chaos Lords don’t get the +1 Toughness nor Disgustingly Resilient, but they’re also the only way to get the re-roll 1s to hit aura other than Daemon Princes. That really sucks, because if they did, there’d be a pretty compelling reason to take these guys, particularly as Terminators to drop in with Blightlord Terminators. They also can’t take Jump Packs. As-is, their best use is to take them barebones so you can put them in the backfield with Plagueburst Crawlers or Hellforged Dreadnoughts to use his re-roll aura.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Lord of Contagion

The real Death Guard Lords, these guys do get the +1 Toughness and DR, but give up a re-roll hits aura in favor of a 7″ aura that causes mortal wounds at the start of your turn on a 4+. Also comes with fewer options, but the Plaguereaper is a good weapon and one of the few 3-Damage weapons weapons that Chaos can get. Usually you’re better off spending the points elsewhere, but there’s a place to take one of these with a squad of Blightlord Terminators if you want some extra melee damage. Most of the time the points are better spent elsewhere, though.

Troops

Death Guard have access to three Troops choices, not counting the Daemons which have been included in the book. We’ll include a note on those but it’s important to note that including those in a detachment with Death Guard will cause it to not be a Death Guard detachment (it will be a Nurgle detachment), and you will lose Inexorable Advance and access to Death Guard stratagems if you do this (unless the Daemons are summoned, as mentioned earlier).

Plague Marines. Credit: RichyP

Plague Marines

The supposed core troop of the Death Guard, Plague Marines suffer from being a bit overcosted. Even with a drop to 16ppm base, having 5 Toughness and Disgustingly Resilient just isn’t enough to overcome their single wound, movement, and range limitations on the whole, but they have a few tricks up their pox-riddled sleeves that are worth looking at. Their ability to give the squad champion a Plasma gun means they can triple up on special weapons, giving you the option to either run 3 plasma guns in a 5-man squad or a plasma gun and 2 blight launchers, which are going to be the options you’ll want to consider (the plague belcher/spewer just aren’t really worth it). This can make them nasty in small squads, while their high toughness and Disgustingly Resilient make them good for sitting on objectives.

With the addition of the Hateful Assault ability, there may be an additional use for squads of Plague Marines. The Vectors of Death and Disease rule gives any Plague Marine with two knives, an axe + knife, or a mace + knife an extra attack (it does nothing for the Champion), meaning that you can drop their bolters and have a squad of Assault Plague Marines who have 3 attacks on the charge and re-roll wound rolls of 1.This is a pretty good deal for a unit that might not have done much with its bolters, and it’s a cheaper option that triple plasma or double launchers + plasma. The fancy melee options are cool here, but they likely make the squad too expensive for what you want and so you are likely better off going with double plague knives if you go down this route than spending the points on bubotic axes and flails for regular Plague Marines. There’s probably a route to run these guys that puts them in Termite Assault Drills (see below) to get them where they need to be.

Wings Note: This is such a weird equipment list. Lots with dual knives, preferably buffed up with Putresecent Vitality, does seem like a plausible option, I’d maybe scatter a couple of flails in but the other options seem way too expensive.

The Plague Brethren

“What the heck are Plague Brethren?” you might be asking. Well, the Plague Brethren are a special set of 3 monopose Death Guard Plague Marines that Games Workshop released as a set shortly after the Codex released. They’re fairly unremarkable, featuring a champion and two Marines, one of which has a meltagun. What is notable out them however, is that they have their own weird little datasheet, which is devoid of special rules but means you can run them as a 3-man squad of Plague Marines sporting a meltagun, which will run you a whopping 62 points per squad, so if you wanted a cheap way to fill out a Battalion, 3 Plague Marines will survive longer on average than 13 Cultists against most types of fire. Most tournaments don’t still allow you to run them though, since they’re basically just an undersized Plague Marine squad. If you are planning to try and run them, consult with your TO first.

Chaos Cultists

Poor Cultists. They seem to get worse with every new FAQ and rules update. At 5 points per model, they’re overcosted for use as a horde, but it is notable that, unlike with Codex: Chaos Space Marines, Death Guard Cultists can still come in squads of 40, making them a little bit better if you happen to be including some Chaos Space Marines to get access to the Tide of Traitors Stratagem. Otherwise most of the time these guys show up in your army, it’s as a minimum-cost squad of 10 (50 points) to fill out a Battalion.

Poxwalkers

Poxwalkers used to be pretty great, then Games Workshop issued an FAQ ruling stating that if they went over their starting size, you’d have to spend reinforcement points on them. That’s a big blow, especially because the maximum starting size of the unit is 20, which really keeps them from being the brutal shambling horde you want them to be. That said, Poxwalkers aren’t terrible – the biggest problem is that they’re just worse in almost every respect than Plaguebearers, which do come in squads of 30, have better melee weapons and toughness, can teleport onto the table, and can regain models via an icon when they take a morale test. If you are going to take Poxwalkers, you want to always take them in squads of 20 so you can work them back up to max and take advantage of their Diseased Horde bonus. Also note that they can get useful bonuses from Typhus (+1 Strength and +1 Toughness) and Necrosius (re-roll Disgustingly Resilient rolls of 1), and you can pile on other character bonuses to help them make it into combat and be effective when they get there, including using Veterans of the Long War to give them +1 to their Wound rolls. They’re going to do their best work against other blobs of Infantry.

Wings: Basically everything TheChirurgeon says here is correct. These desperately need a point cut now, but for those of us playing tournaments at the time of the Poxwalker farm it’s really, really hard to be sad that they suck right now.

Daemons

Nurgle Daemons are great. Unfortunately for pure Death Guard players, you are better off taking a separate detachment of Daemons and making sure they’re well-supported and have access to the stratagems you need to make them shine. Plaguebearers really want to be in units of 30 and have the support of a Sloppity Bilepiper.

 

Elites

Death Guard have access to a bunch of Elite units, and several of them are even worth taking!

Foul Blightspawn

Comes with a Plague Sprayer, which is one of the most hilarious weapons in the game – a 9″ d6 shot Plague Weapon flamer with 2d6 strength and AP-3 that does an insane 3 damage. He’s also got a 7″ aura that makes charging units fight as though they hadn’t charged, which can be really handy for protecting your units. Like most of the Death Guard units, this guy’s biggest disadvantage is that he’s slow, but his damage output and his ability to help make your screening units much more deadly to deal with (his aura works on enemy units rather than boosting allied ones, so it helps any other Chaos factions you team him up with) make him practically a steal at 77 points. He’s also your best way of dealing with enemy jets, since he can cut right through all the bullshit penalties to hit. He’s a single character-murdering machine and he’s one of the single worst units to charge at in 40k 8th edition, and that’s pretty great. Don’t be afraid to run 3 of these.

Blightlord Terminators

The real all-stars of the Death Guard Codex now that they’ve had a combination of points drops and improvements via Bolter Discipline and Hateful Assault. WIth a 2+ save, 4+ invulnerable save, 2 wounds each, 5 Toughness and Disgustingly Resilient, these guys are incredibly difficult to take out and as Terminators they can teleport right into the enemy’s backfield and bypass that unfortunate tendency of Death Guard to struggle to close the distance. While they may still struggle to close the distance to the enemy in close combat after they teleport (they only have a 4″ Movement characteristic), their combi-bolters can dump out 4 shots each even as they move and their Bubotic Axes are solid enough to ensure that they can take down bigger targets, especially when you’re using Veterans of the Long War to boost their chances to wound.

Blightlord Terminators essentially demand an answer when they show up, and they’re harder to deal with than most backfield threats. They’re also a prime target for the Grandfather’s Blessing stratagem, which can return dead Blightlord Terminators to play if none of the rest are wounded. Typically, you’re going to take 7-10 of these guys with Bubotic Axes and Combi-Bolters, swapping out the weapons on one or two for a Flail of Corruption, and giving another one or two Blight Launchers, depending on the unit size. Their combat capabilities got an incredible boost with the addition of the Hateful Assault ability, where swinging with 3 attacks on the charge instead of 2 is a big boost, particularly for Plague Flails, where having 3D3 Attacks with damage spillover can be an incredible pain for a lot of units.

Credit: RichyP

Deathshroud Terminators

Bigger, fightier versions of the Blightlords, Deathshrouds come with an extra point of Strength, an extra Attack, smaller squad size, and they trade out their axes and bolters for manreapers and plagueburst gauntlets. Manreapers are fine close combat weapons and these guys can dish out a real beating, but if you’re taking them, it’s to use their Silent Bodyguards ability to protect Mortarion. ‘Ol Morty’s still a beast (albeit a slightly diminished one), but it can be tough keeping him on the table long enough to strike, particularly if you don’t get the first turn and miss being able to set up Miasma of Pestilence with him. The Deathshrouds can tank hits for him pretty effectively, ensuring that he’ll live to make it into combat and tear things up. If you’re not taking Mortarion though, you’re better off buying more Blightlord Terminators instead. These guys are also an OK target for Putrescent Vitality if you’re taking it, as pushing them to S9 with their manreaper scythes or T6 can be useful.

Wings Note: Worth noting that in an extremely “early 8th ed” fashion their bodyguard ability works differently to almost anyone else’s, transferring the hit after it has landed rather than funnelling mortal wounds across in any way. This can be relevant against Tau or Eldar’s +/re-roll wound abilities – the wound roll is made against the Terminators, not Mortarion.

Hellforged Contemptor Dreadnought

One of the most points-efficient units in the game, the Hellforged Contemptor gives Death Guard an interesting, less-expensive alternative to the Deredeo. Dual butcher cannons is a solid play here, and if you want more than just a bargain Deredeo, you can consider giving one dual C-Beam cannons, which allow it to sit in the corner and throw out insane shooting from across the table, keeping it safe as it takes out targets from a distance. With the extra 2D6 Strength 6 hits it generates when a model dies, it can wipe out 10-man squads of guard, cultists, and fire warriors with ease, helping score points in the ITC format for killing one and killing more every turn.

Wings Note: Honestly, the dual butcher build is great here – The Purge compete heavily with Death Guard on making these good, but moving and shooting without penalty is a unique bit of special sauce DG can hand out.

The Other Elites

Noxious Blightbringer

The dudes with the big bells. Love the model, what it actually does isn’t great. The -1 Leadership modifier is pretty worthless, and while getting a 2D6-pick-the-highest Advance is nice, it’s not enough to justify his cost and nothing in your army can Advance and Charge.

Biologus Putrifier

A fun little unit that boosts blight grenades for nearby units and can explode in a shower of mortal wounds that affect non-Nurgle units within 7″. Cute, but boosting grenades is a marginal effect at best.

Wings Note: It wouldn’t take Plague Marines being much better for this guy to actually be very relevant. The combo with the Blight Bombardment stratagem (letting every model in a unit throw a grenade instead of just one) is no joke, especially if you go deeper and bring Arch Contaminator along. It definitely isn’t a serious competitive option today, but Plague Marines getting a substantial cut would make it worth looking at.

Plague Surgeon

Theoretically a Chaos Apothecary but in practice all he does is give nearby Death Guard INFANTRY units the ability to re-roll Disgustingly Resilient rolls of 1. It’s neat, but not enough to make him worth taking.

Tallyman

An odd unit in that his only weapon is a plasma pistol. Has a 7″ aura to re-roll all failed hits in the Fight phase for friendly DEATH GUARD units (and it’s the old, bad kind of re-rolls), and refunds CP spent on a Death Guard stratagem when you roll a 7 on 2D6. That translates to a 1 in 6 chance overall, so it’s functionally the same as getting a your CP back on a 6. It’s neat but not good enough to justify his points – the CP refund ability only works on DEATH GUARD stratagems and won’t happen often enough there, and the aura, while useful, is on a model with no offensive prowess of his own and no way to keep up with or teleport in with your army’s best combat units. He’s not terrible, but he’s not good enough.

Possessed

Possessed aren’t good enough when they have the support of multiple characters and specialist detachments designed only to buff them. They definitely aren’t good enough when you don’t have any of that.

Helbrute

Death Guard Helbrutes don’t get Disgustingly Resilient but they do get Inexorable Advance, which is a pretty solid way of turning them into mobile weapons platforms. It unfortunately doesn’t allow them to count as stationary, so you can’t trigger Fire Frenzy after moving. With a BS of 3+ and a lackluster selection of weapons, Death Guard Helbrutes just don’t have a lot to offer over Forge World options, even at a significantly reduced cost.

Chaos Decimator

A cheaper, less accurate version of the Contemptor in most respects. Trades out being a HELBRUTE (and getting Inexorable Advance) for being a DAEMON. Dropping to BS 3+ means you that won’t want to take C-Beams on this guy, so don’t look at him as a cheaper alternative to the Contemptor. Has some interesting options but Death Guard don’t have access to Lords Discordant so miss out on most of the things you’d want to do with this guy. Even in more casual lists you’ll want to skip him.

 

Fast Attack

“Death Guard” and “Fast Attack” don’t really go together, but they have a couple of options. The biggest problem with Death Guard Fast Attack options is that all but one of them is a Daemon Engine, which means that to get the most out them, you’d want to pair them with a Lord Discordant, which Death Guard don’t get, or with Nurgle Daemons, but most of the buffs you’ll want from Nurgle Daemons come from units you wouldn’t typically take, which feels a lot like you’re putting lots of points into making mediocre units good rather than making good units better.

Foetid Blight-Drone

Credit: Zuul the Cat

Compared to the rest of the army, Foetid Blight-Drones are pretty fast units that can reliably advance and fire with their gun options and harass gunlines pretty reliably with the ability to fall back and shoot. They’re tougher than they look thanks to DR and a 5+ invulnerable save, but not so tough that you won’t want a group of three of them when you take them. They come in three flavors:

  • Twin Plaguespitters. The default setting, and the one you’ll want to go with most of the time. Short-ranged, but the auto-hit guns mitigate the downside of the Blight-Drone’s 4+ BS, and they can advance and fire without penalty, giving them the most mobility of any variant. At 158 points, they’re a little too expensive to be competitive in most environments, but they’re worth a look in monofaction lists that need a way to draw fire and harass enemy flanks while the rest of the army moves into position. These are the best loadout to equip your Bloat Drones with.
  • Heavy Blight Launcher.  You can swap out the plaguespitters for a heavy blight launcher, which is an Assault 6, 36″ range, S6 AP-2 d3 Damage Plague Weapon. Costs 159 points, so about the same as the plaguespitters version and it’s also significantly overcosted. At BS 4+, switching to guns that don’t auto-hit means you’re likely to whiff with half your shots when you aren’t Advancing, and the penalty for Advancing will stop you from getting the most out of your Movement most of the time. These guys could have a little more value if Death Guard got access to the Daemonforge stratagem, but even with a CSM Detachment, you can’t use it on Death Guard Daemon Vehicles.
  • Fleshmower. The cheapest option of the three, these guys clock in at 136 ppm and give up all their shooting in exchange for a fleshmower, which gives them an extra 6 attacks at S+2 AP-2 D2 and with the Plague Weapon bonus. While these sadly only get 1 extra attack from Hateful Assault, that still gives it 10 Attacks on the charge at full health, coming at at S8. Not a bad haul, but half of those are going to miss thanks to the things having WS 4+. Whomp whomp. Of all the Bloat-Drone options, these are probably the most reasonably-costed, though they’re still a bit on the high end for what you get considering they have no shooting whatsoever and a trash WS characteristic. Still, a fun unit that can absolutely mulch things if given the chance and they’re the most likely build to take advantage of the Blight Drone’s propensity for exploding on a 4+ and doing 1 mortal wound to everything around it.
    Wings Note: There’s something to be said for just how tough these things are for their cost, but that’s a much harder to land now the Lord Discordant exists at a not-that-much-higher price. It wouldn’t take much of a cut to make these worth properly looking at though, they’d be a serious wrecking ball at 120pts.

The other thing Bloat-Drones bring to the table is the ability to meaningfully assault flying units. In most tournaments, this will be Eldar flyers, but being able to either unload two plaguespitters and finish the job with a plague probe or uh, fleshmower a jet out of the sky is pretty solid. If you do kill an Eldar jet with fleshmowers, please take a photo of it and email us at contact@goonhammer.com so we can see it cause it sounds like it’ll be hilariously awesome.

Greater Blight Drone

The bigger, meaner cousin of the Foetid Blight-Drone. Lacks Disgustingly Resilient because Forge World rules are dumb as hell, but heals one wound at the start of each of your turns. The Greater Blight Drone is faster and better at shooting than the smaller versions – it comes with BS 3+ and doesn’t degrade. That’d be great, except its primary gun is Heavy 4, so you’re still shooting at BS 4+ most of the time. And again, while the Greater Blight Drone is a Daemon Engine, you won’t get access to the stratagems it needs to operate at full efficiency without taking a Chaos Space Marines detachment. They get an extra gun and a scout move that’s a neat addition, but at more than 200 points per model, you can comfortably skip these.

Myphitic Blight-Hauler

Credit: TheChirurgeon

These little dudes are the daemon engines that could, but still kind of don’t quite. They’ve been buffed several times by updates in Chapter Approved, but still haven’t quite gotten there – their biggest problem is that their missile launchers and multi-meltas are single-shot weapons and so tend to be just not very good. The upside is that they ignore the penalty for moving and shooting and have a decent Move characteristic to help them get close to high-value targets. If you take these guys, you want it to be as a group of three so you can get the +1 bonus to hit to mitigate their terrible BS (4+). Like every other Daemon Engine in the Death Guard army, these guys really want the Daemonforge stratagem and can’t get it. At 117 points each, these adorable little monsters aren’t wildly overcosted for what they’re bringing, but you’ve just got access to much better options if you aren’t trying to go pure Death Guard.

It’s worth noting that there’s a cute (if not super-competitive) trick where you run three of these guys alongside a Great Unclean One with a Doomsday Bell. At the start of each turn, you roll a D6 for each NURGLE DAEMON unit within 7″ of the GUO and on a 4+, you return a slain model back to the unit. This is particularly great when you’re talking about multi-wound daemon vehicles like the blight-haulers. The downside is that you have to spend points on a Great Unclean One.

Wings Note: I think if you want to try and be pure Death Guard or mostly pure with just a smattering of Heretic Astartes sorcery you need to seriously look at these as a ranged option. They’re extremely resilient for their cost, and as a powerful multi-model unit they’re a great target for buffs like Miasma of Pestilence or (if you’ve got a Dark Hereticus caster) Prescience. I can’t put my hand on my heart and say these are a serious tournament contender, but if you just want a surprisingly spicy option for a local league or something, they’re worth a look.

Chaos Spawn

The only reason to take a Chaos Spawn is because it costs 25 points and you need to fill out a detachment.

Forge World Drop Pods (the Dreadclaw and the Kharybdis)

For an army as slow and hardy as the Death Guard, you’d think that having Drop Pods to plant units in key positions would be great. Unfortunately, Chaos only gets the Forge World drop pods, which cost significantly more for their ability to fly around shooting things and can’t arrive on turn 1. Because the one Death Guard unit you really need to arrive in a forward position can already teleport onto the battlefield, neither Drop Pod gives you a lot of value. The Dreadclaw is too expensive and the Kharybdis even more overpriced for what it gives you. Which is a shame, cause the models for these drop pods look very cool.

 

Flyers

For a while, Death Guard made heavy use of Hell Blades to block movement of enemy units with their large bases, until changes in the April 2019 FAQ allowed enemy units to walk over Flyer bases in the Movement phase. Since then, their value is somewhat diminished for Death Guard, who really needed them in monofaction armies to funnel or block enemy Movement and trap units trying to otherwise get away from Blightlord Terminators.

Hell Blade

Hell Blades saw some use for a while in some off-beat monofaction Death Guard lists that used them as large bases that could be rotated multiple times per turn to block enemy movement and prevent access to key parts of the table while Blightlord Terminators and other threats closed the gap with enemy units. Since the April 2019 FAQ closed that particular function by allowing units to just walk over the bases of aircraft in the Movement phase, they’re a lot less useful. While the Helstorm cannons are nice, they’re only S6 and Death Guard aren’t particularly hard up for low-strength, high-damage shooting. Theoretically, for 130 points and with +1 to hit against targets with FLY, Hell Blades make solid anti-air units. There’s a case for that, but taking them as Death Guard gets you nothing and the best way for Death Guard to deal with fliers is to use guns that don’t roll to hit, like the Foul Blightspawn’s plague sprayer or the plague spitters on the Bloat-Drones. Not a bad unit, but not one that’s worth forcing into your list, either.

Hell Talon

The bigger, beefier, bomber brother of the Hell Blade. Hell Talons get some interesting tricks but aren’t bringing much to the table that Death Guard need.

Chaos Fire Raptor

Fire Raptors were great before their points hike in Chapter Approved 2017. Now there’s potentially a place for them in armies that can stack a lot of bonuses and auras on one of them. Death Guard aren’t one of those armies. As-is, the Fire Raptor is a solid, but slightly overpriced gun platform that can put in work against targets for you. It’s not competitively priced, but bringing one won’t kill you, either. The problem is that Death Guard just don’t do anything for them in the way that loyalist or even other CSM armies do.

Chaos Storm Eagle

Essentially a flying Land Raider and Death Guard just don’t have much use for one.

Chaos Xiphon Interceptor

A heavier version of the Hell Blade with more of the bells and whistles you want: Anti-tank guns in the form of four lascannons and a missile launcher, the ability to ignore the penalty for moving and shooting heavy weapons, +1 against targets with FLY, and double turning. The Xiphon would be an absolute steal and a solid inclusion in a Death Guard army if not for the 30-point hike it got in Chapter Approved. It received a slight reprieve last time around with the points decreases for twin lascannons, but 240 points for a 10-Wound flyer is a lot to ask. And like all the other Forge World options that aren’t dreadnoughts, Death Guard don’t really do much for the Xiphon.

Heavy Support

Death Guard have some fantastic Heavy Support options, owing to the fact that they have both Plagueburst Crawlers and Forge World Dreadnoughts, the latter of which are dramatically improved by their Inexorable Advance special rule.

Credit: Charlie A.

Plagueburst Crawler

Alright, now we’re talking. Most Death Guard armies include three of these bad boys, and with good reason – even with a BS of 4+, the ability to fire indirectly at targets is incredibly good, especially when the firing gun is D6 S8 AP-2 D3 Damage shots with Plague Weapon. It’s also T8 with Disgustingly Resilient and a 5+ invulnerable save, making it one tough bastard to remove. The only downside is the low Ballistic Skill and slow movement, but you’re going to avoid moving the thing if you can help it. If you do need to move it, you can use the Blasphemous Machines Stratagem to avoid taking the penalty, and you’ll want to do that most of the time so you can actually hit things. The only reason this bad boy doesn’t seem more play is because Hellforged Deredeos can also fire indrectly and pack more firepower with a more accurate package and the ability to move and shoot. Which is a shame, because these things are still great. If you’re taking them, either of the plaguespitter or entropy cannon options are fine and will set you back about the same number of points. Generally, you probably want the plaguespitters –they’re a better deterrent for charging units on the whole and entropy cannons won’t help you much if you’re planning to hide the PBCs out of line of sight from the targets they’d go after.

There’s also a pretty successful school of thought that has the Plagueburst Crawlers moving up the table at a regular pace, ignoring the drop in accuracy and making good use of double plaguespitters and the tank’s hardiness to soak up fire near the front lines and cause problems for the enemy up front rather than hiding back and acting as big mortars. In this case you’re also using the tank’s size to screen other units’ approach and even charging with it to absorb overwatch fire against very shoot targets. I’m personally of the mind that this is less useful now that Death Guard can just take Termite drills to fill the same role more effectively, but it’s an effective way to use them, particularly if you aren’t putting a lot into supporting them with auras.

Hellforged Deredeo Dreadnought

One of the unholy trinity of units you’re likely to be taking in your Death Guard detachment. Yeah, I said nice things about Blightlord Terminators above and they’re neat and all, but for most Chaos armies, you’re splashing Death Guard so you can get Hellforged Deredeos, Contemptors, or Leviathans with the Inexorable Advance rule. Hellforged Deredeos have a few advantages over their loyalist counterparts, and Inexorable Advance makes them particularly solid for Death Guard. Most of the time, you’re going to run these with Butcher Cannon Arrays and Greater Havoc Launchers. The Butcher Cannons give you 8 S8, AP-1, D2 shots at 36″ while the Greater Havoc Launcher gives you 3D3 S6 AP-1 D1 shots that can shoot at targets that aren’t visible. The Butcher Cannons are great for taking on vehicles or heavy infantry and as a Death Guard Helbrute, the Helforged Deredeo can stay mobile to keep its targets in range. Finally Helical Targeting Array gives you an option for taking on flyers (though in a weird twist, it can’t be activated in consecutive turns for some reason). You’re going to want three of these when they’re part of your game plan.

Hellforged Leviathan Dreadnought

The third in our Hellforged trinity of Death Guard Forge World units, the Hellforged Leviathan gets to live its best life in the Death Guard, ignoring penalties for moving and shooting its Butcher Cannons as it ambles around the table. The Leviathan gives up the indirect fire option of the Deredeo and the Helical targeting array in exchange for a better save, higher toughness, more wounds, and doubling up on Butcher Cannon Arrays. And yes, you want to go double Butcher Cannons when you take this bad boy. Being able to push out 16 S8, AP-1, 2 damage shots at 36″ while moving freely without penalty is a fantastic addition to the army and provides value against pretty much any kind of target you could hope to go up against. It’s not uncommon to see Death Guard Spearhead Detachments running 3 Hellforged Deredeos and one Hellforged Leviathan.

Chaos Predator

Death Guard Predators still have access to the Killshot Stratagem, but lack the necessary aura-generating characters to make committing to 3 Predators worth it. And without Killshot, Predators aren’t really good enough to take as a 1- or 2-of.

Chaos Land Raider

The continual point decreases keep making me come back to look at Chaos Land Raiders but even if Death Guard see another drop in Chapter Approved to bring the base cost down to 180 points, it still won’t be worth taking one.

Defiler

If Defilers got Disgustingly Resilient and Inexorable Advance, they might be worth looking at. In the Death Guard, they’re strictly worse than their already uncompetitive Chaos Space Marines counterparts, which enjoy access to Lords Discordant, Greater Possessed, the Daemonforge Stratagem, and Abaddon, and still don’t see play.

The Other Forge World Stuff

The other Forge World stuff doesn’t have a ton to offer Death Guard; if it’s not good enough to show up in Chaos Space Marine armies and it’s not a HELBRUTE, it’s generally not good enough for Death Guard, either.

 

Dedicated Transport

Plague Marines being a bit lacklustre makes transport for them a reasonably hard sell. The basic Rhino doesn’t really get there, but the Forge World option has a bit more to recommend it.

Chaos Rhino

It’s a Rhino. It’s not particularly useful in most Chaos armies and it doesn’t do much for Death Guard either, despite their slow movement. It’s just more points than you want to spend on something that only carts your units around.

Terrax-Pattern Termite Assault Drill

It’s kind of like a Rhino that can Deep Strike. It costs almost twice as much but it comes with T8, a D3-shot melta gun, and the ability to completely wreck someone’s day with a bigass drill. These haven’t gotten much play yet in Chaos lists, but now that Hateful Assault makes more Chaos assault options worthwhile, these guys are worth a second look. They can’t transport Terminators, so they work best as a delivery mechanism to either get Plague Marines to an objective, or to put a squad of double-knife Plague Marines right in front of your opponent. The 9″ charges are still unlikely, but once they surface, the drills will be a much more pressing issue for opponents to deal with. You can also use the drills to help funnel or trap units that you need to catch up to with Blightlord Terminators, creating a kind of hammer-and-anvil situation. Remember that as of the September 2019 FAQ, Termite Drills also get Hateful Assault, so at full health they can bring 7 S14, AP-4 3-Damage attacks to the table that can cause a bunch of additional mortal wounds. The ideal situation is probably putting a Blightspawn in one with a squad, but sadly he won’t be able to reach anything if he gets out the turn it arrives from underground. Having a drill survive one turn is a tall order.

Wings Note: Just stacking 6 plasma guns in one of these to pop up in the vicinity of a Daemon Prince seems pretty cool, and something that makes Plague Marines look a bit less horrible.

Lords of War

There’s really just the one Lord of War option for Death Guard but fortunately, that option is one of the strongest units in the entire Chaos range.

Credit: Zuul the Cat

Mortarion

Mortarion’s best days of 8th edition are probably behind him, but he’s still a total beast on the battlefield and capable of doing real damage. He’s got an incredibly sick aura that lowers the Toughness of enemy units within 7″ by 1, which can really do a lot of work for a Death Guard army firing off a bunch of S6 weapons, and his other aura effect causes mortal wounds to those same units. These all help him mow down targets in melee, where he has a big attack and a stomp attack option for clearing out hordes. The combination of the Toughness aura and Mortarion’s base strength mean you can wound any target in the game on a 2+ if you’re using Silence’s “Eviscerating Blow” mode, and against any target with Toughness 8 or better, you’re going to be better off mathematically using that mode. Your break-even for smaller units is at 2 wounds per model; against Intercessors, either model will achieve the same results from an expected value standpoint, but you’ll likely find more consistent results using the Reaping Scythe mode against those targets. Generally speaking , against anything with 3+ wounds per model, go with Eviscerating Blow unless it’s got damage reduction so severe that the damage difference between the two weapons doesn’t matter.

Here’s a general guide you can use (assume Mortarion is at max. health, and has charged), though note that this doesn’t take into account Blades of Putrefaction. If that’s active, you pretty much want to be Reaping against any target so you can maximize the number of extra Mortal Wounds you’ll generate.

TargetEviscerating Exp. KillsReaping Exp. KillsMode to Use
Space Marines7.815.5Reaping
Primaris Marines7.87.8Reaping
Terminators5.25.8Reaping
Kastelan Robots4.52.1Eviscerating
TargetEviscerating Exp. DamageReaping Exp. DamageMode to use
Riptide w/3++7.75.3Eviscerating
Imperial Knight / Repulsor Executioner27.112.4Eviscerating
Relic Leviathan w/Ironstone and Duty Eternal3.99.3Reaping

IMPORTANT NOTE: When you generate extra attacks with Mortarion using his Death to the False Emperor ability, the new attacks can be made with either mode of the Scythe. If you choose to make them with Reaping Scythe mode, you get 3 additional attacks. Something to keep in mind if you need to mix things up.

Mortarion’s biggest problem is that he’s a targetable character and in the post-Knights meta, armies are tooled out to handle a T7, 18W target, no matter how Disgustingly Resilient it is. If you take him, you’ll need a way to ensure he survives to wreak havoc on your first and (hopefully) second turns, and so that will usually mean either putting other massive targets on the table (such as Lords Discordant or Hellforged Dreadnoughts) or having some Deathshroud Terminators around to tank wounds for him. Or both, really. It can be hard to protect him, especially if you are going second, because a big part of Mortarion’s game is that he’s also a potent Psyker, able to cast two powers per turn and deny three. Most of the time, you’ll want to give him Miasma of Pestilence to give him that -1 to be hit and Blades of Putrefaction to boost his damage output in combat — combine this with the Reaping mode on his scythe to ensure you’re wounding any target in the game on a 2+ and scoring an extra 3-5 mortal wounds per combat. For his third power, you’ll usually be better of running Curse of the Leper (which combos very well with his Toughness-reducing aura) or Plague Wind over Putrescent Vitality, since at best you’ll be using Vitality to boost nearby Deathshrouds and the ability to throw out mortal wounds with Plague Wind is going to be more useful as your third power most of the time.

Anyways, Mortarion’s great, and has a place in both pure Death Guard lists and soup lists that run Thousand Sons and lots of daemons.

Wings Note: Mortarion desperately, desperately wants access to Warptime, so if you see him out and about at events it’s almost always with a Dark Hereticus caster (usually Ahriman) in tow.

Other Options

Realistically the only other option you’re going to even sniff among the Forge World Lords of War for the Death Guard is the Hellforged Spartan, which can act as a delivery mechanism for your Blightlords or Deathshroud Terminators plus a helpful cohort of characters to buff them. It’s certainly a more attractive option now that it has its own Power of the Machine spirit, but it’s still too expensive and too fragile to be worth taking in a competitive environment.

 

Relics

The Death Guard have access to six relics which, again, is both fewer than a standalone Codex and fewer than what the new Space Marine supplements get. One is completely worthless and another two just aren’t very good. Fortunately there’s one that’s very good and two others that are OK.

  • Plaguebringer – A confusingly-named replacement for a Plague Knife, Balesword, or Power Sword. It’s an AP-2, D3 Damage Plague Weapon that does mortal wounds when you roll a 6 to Wound. Not too bad if you can combine it with Blades of Putrefaction and Veterans of the Long war to trigger mortal wounds on a 4+ to wound. This will require you give it to an INFANTRY character however, and that’s the part that stinks. Probably best used on a Chaos Lord in Terminator Armor to replace a power sword. B-
  • The Suppurating Plate – Gives a character a 2+ save and every time the model passes a save in the Fight phase, roll a D6. On a 4+, the unit that inflicted the wound takes a mortal wound. This is the best relic in the army. Put it on a Daemon Prince with Wings to make him a little harder to damage and ensure that anything hitting him in melee is going to feel it. A
  • The Pandemic Staff – Psyker only, Gives the bearer +1 to their Smite attempts. Does nothing else. If you aren’t taking a Daemon Prince but you’ve got a Plaguecaster, this is OK, I guess. C
  • Dolorous Knell – Noxious Blightbringer only. At the start of each Morale phase, roll a D6 for each enemy unit within 7″ of the model holding this. On a 6, they take a mortal wound. Also, enemy units within 7″ that take morale tests roll 2D6 and drop the lowest result. You aren’t going to take Noxious Blightbringers anyways and even if you did, this wouldn’t be what you’d want to spend a relic or CP on. D
  • Fugaris’ Helm – Increases the range of a character’s auras by 3″, bringing most of them up to 10″. Not too bad. Potentially useful on a Lord of Contagion, a Tallyman, a Foul Blightspawn, or on a Warlord with the Arch Contaminator trait when you need to get extra range on their auras and you don’t have a good unit to give Suppurating Plate to. B+
  • The Plague Skull of Glothila – A one-use relic grenade that does 1 shot at 7″ but if it hits, you roll a D6 for each model in the enemy unit (re-rolling 1s) and for every 6 you roll, the unit takes a mortal wound. If you could modify this roll in any way it might be worth looking at but as-is, you’ll only even consider it as a gametime add against hordes and even then you have to walk your character within 7″ of an enemy horde to have a chance at, best-case scenario, 3-5 mortal wounds. C

 

Stratagems

Similar to the Relics, The Death Guard are also short on Stratagems. They only have 14, and 5 of those are replicated from Codex: Chaos Space Marines. And none of them is Daemonforge, a Stratagem the Death Guard really, really needed and can’t be used cross-codex thanks to some incredibly poor wording. Also, almost none of their Stratagems interact with Mortarion, their custom vehicles, or Daemon Princes.

  • Nurgle’s Rot (3 CP) – Once per battle, you can use this in the Shooting phase. You pick one of your DEATH GUARD CHARACTERs and roll a D6 for every unit within 7″ of them. On a 4+, that unit takes D3 mortal wounds. NURGLE units are unaffected. As far as Stratagems go, this is pretty situational (you’ll want to make sure you have at least 2 to 3 units within 7″ before you pop off 3 CP for it), it’s a pretty solid trick to have in your back pocket. 7″ is a respectable distance to use this with and if you can close in on a battle pile with one of your units, it can be pretty devastating, and a decent way to snipe characters hidden behind screening units. The only downside is that getting your characters within 7″ of enemy units is harder for Death Guard than almost any other army. B
    Wings Note:
    Funny if you’ve thrown Mortarion right at them with Warptime.
  • Cloud of Flies (1 CP) – Use during your Movement phase. Pick a DEATH GUARD INFANTRY unit. Until your next Movement phase, enemy models can only shoot that unit if it is the closest visible target. This is a very powerful Stratagem in theory. The only problem is that it only works on Infantry, which means it won’t protect your most common rear units (Dreadnoughts, Plagueburst Crawlers), won’t help you keep Mortarion alive, and most of the time it won’t protect your Blightlord Terminators (who are likely to be the closest unit to the enemy when they teleport onto the battlefield). So its best use is protecting units sitting on objectives – particular the 3-model Plague Brethren – but it’s not going to be as useful as it could be just because of the way competitive Death Guard armies play. B
  • Grandfather’s Blessings (2 CP) – Use at the end of your Movement phase on a DEATH GUARD INFANTRY unit. One model in that unit regains D3 lost wounds. If all the unit’s models are at full wounds, you get a model back with 1 wound remaining. The best and pretty much only time you’re going to use this will be to either return a Blightlord Terminator or Deathshroud to the battlefield. Any other time it costs too much to even consider. B
  • Fire Frenzy (1 CP) – Use on a Helbrute before it moves. It can’t move, but it can shoot twice, but all those attacks have to be at the nearest visible enemy unit. This doesn’t work on Forge World Dreadnoughts and you’re never going to take Helbrutes in a Death Guard army competitively. Even if you did, there are better uses of your CP than doubling the paltry firepower of a Helbrute. D
  • Putrid Detonation (1 CP) – The greatest Stratagem in the entire game. OK, there are probably some that are better, but this one is just so delightfully spiteful and reliably nasty. Play when a DEATH GUARD VEHICLE dies. It automatically explodes – don’t roll. This is a fantastic way to throw out spiteful mortal wounds at whatever unit just managed to take out one of your vehicles in close combat, or risked getting too close. It won’t be useful every time one of your vehicles dies, but it’ll be pretty clear when you want to use it. A
  • Blasphemous Machines (1 CP) – Lets a vehicle ignore the penalty to its To Hit rolls for moving and firing Heavy Weapons, or Advancing and firing Assault weapons. Potentially useful for adjusting positions on a Plagueburst Crawler, but it’s only going to affect one vehicle and that’s the only one you’ll ever use it on since the Dreadnoughts and Myphitic Blight Haulers ignore the penalty for moving and firing heavy weapons anyways. B
  • Gifts of Decay (1/3 CP) – Your standard “take extra relics” ability. Too bad your relics are garbage. The only time you will ever use this is to put Suppurating Plate on a Winged Daemon Prince, if for some reason that isn’t the guy with the freebie. C
  • Chaos Familiar of Nurgle (1 CP) – Lets you swap out a Psychic power for another one from the Contagion Discipline. Only four of the Contagion powers are useful and most tournaments will let you pick powers at the start of the game, so there’s just not a ton of use for this to begin with. Even if you can’t pick your powers pre-game, it’ll usually be obvious what powers your army is going to use and so you won’t want to waste CP on this. D
  • Killshot (1 CP) – Works on three Death Guard Predators within 6″ of each other. They get +1 to their hit and wounds rolls vs. MONSTER and VEHICLE targets until the end of the turn. If Predators were worth taking, this’d be pretty good. Unfortunately, Death Guard don’t have the buffs to make them worth taking, and it only works when all three are alive. Also Death Guard Predators aren’t any tougher than regular Predators. C
  • The Dead Walk Again (1 CP) – Works with Poxwalkers and is used at the start of your Movement phase. Until the start of your next Movement phase, that unit of Poxwalkers adds models each time any non-Poxwalker INFANTRY model dies within 7″ of it, friend or foe. This would be much more interesting if you didn’t have to pay reinforcement points to go above starting strength. C
  • Plague Pact (1 CP) – Lets a Death Guard character roll up to 4 dice when summoning and they don’t suffer any mortal wounds for rolling doubles or triples. Useful if you’re summoning to make sure you can get whatever you want on the table. You’ll rarely, if ever, be summoning. C
  • Veterans of the Long War (1 CP) – At least Death Guard got this one. VotLW is so good it’s worth building around, and it’s particularly great when used on a large unit of Blightlord Terminators or when paired with the Blades of Putrefaction psychic power to create a unit that generates mortal wounds on To Wound rolls of a 4+. It’s just a shame it doesn’t work on Mortarion. A
  • Chaos Boon (1 CP) – This awful stratagem takes up the space of 4 in the book, meaning that it’s not just bad because it’s a random effect for a rare event that only works on one unit keyword, but it also actively takes away as many as 3 other powerful options for the Death Guard, making it one of the worst possible stratagems in any book it appears in. F

Warlord Traits

The Death Guard warlord traits are pretty solid. Most of them focus on survivability. So naturally, Mortarion gets one of the two offensive traits.

  1. Revoltingly Resilient – Add 1 to your Disgustingly Resilient rolls for damage that isn’t caused by Mortal Wounds. A decent boost in survivability on a per-damage basis. Think of it as increasing your Warlord’s wound total by 33%. A
    Wings Note:
    33% isn’t a typo. The maths is extremely counter intuitive here and doesn’t work the way you might expect. The easiest way to think of it is that a 6 wound character with a 5++ takes an average of 9 unsaved wounds to take down, while the same character with a 4++ takes 12 wounds to slay.
  2. Living Plague – Roll a die for each enemy unit within 3″ of your Warlord at the start of each Fight phase. On a 4+, that unit takes a Mortal Wound. This is Typhus’ Warlord Trait and it’s just kind of OK. It’s not terrible, but all the other options are better. C
  3. Tainted Regeneration – The Warlord regains a wound at the start of each turn. Neat, but on the whole worse than Revoltingly Resilient, which helps you avoid losing the wounds in the first place. B
  4. Hulking Physique – Add 1 to your Warlord’s Toughness. This is probably going to be most effective on a Chaos Lord in Terminator Armor, where going to T5 makes a very big difference in survival rates. But your warlord is probably going to be a Daemon Prince, and going from T6 to T7 is useful but not nearly as good as the jump to T5. B
  5. Rotten Constitution – Reduces damage inflicted to the Warlord by 1. Overlooked previously but about to be incredibly important as stalker bolt rifles become more common and we see a surge in 2-Damage firepower. Whether you want this or Revoltingly Resilient will largely depend on what you expect to go up against — high volumes of single-damage fire or lots of 2-damage attacks. A
  6. Arch Contaminator – Re-roll all failed Wound rolls when resolving attacks for Plague Weapons for friendly units within 7″ of this warlord. Potentially at its most useful when paired with Blightlord Terminators but remember that it affects shooting attacks for things like Plagueburst Crawlers. B
    Wings Note:
    A Chaos Lord with this babysitting PBCs is no joke.

Building Some Lists

Now that we’ve covered the basic building blocks of the army, let’s talk about actually building some lists and running these on the battlefield. We’ll start with the monofaction side of things, where Death Guard struggle a bit but still have some interesting tricks they can bring to the table.

Monofaction Death Guard

List 1

This list, based off the one taken by Ieuan Jones at the 2019 London Grand Tournament, is a pretty traditional monofaction Death Guard army. It runs three double blight launcher/plasma gun Plague Marine units at troops to press forward and hold objectives, while the Plague Surgeon with a Fugaris Helm can provide a more mangeable aura for re-rolling 1s on Disgustingly Resilient. It’s not my favorite approach, but it improves the value of those units. Meanwhile, the Chaos Lord is a barebones jerk who can hang back with the Plagueburst Crawlers to improve their accuracy by lending his aura to re-roll 1s to hit. Mortarion does his usual thing and the Blight-Haulers zip around and cause problems.

Also this list cheats: It includes a Nurgle Sorcerer from The Purge legion. I know, I know. But it’s a huge addition because it gives the army access to the Dark Hereticus Discipline, meaning he can cast the Prescience and Warptime powers on Death Guard units (none of the Dark Hereticus powers are legion-locked). Also, it means he can have a jump pack, and actually keep up and move around to get those powers off where they’re needed and ensure Mortarion can charge on turn 1. And look, he’s still got the Mark of Nurgle, OK?

Mostly Mono Death Guard - click to expand

1,999 Points

Death Guard Battalion (1,001 pts, +5 CP)

HQ: Necrosius the Undying (Warlord, Trait: Arch-Contaminator)
HQ: Chaos Lord w/Boltgun + Chainsword

Troops: Plague Marines (6) w/2x Blight Launcher, Champion w/Plasma Gun
Troops: Plague Marines (6) w/2x Blight Launcher, Champion w/Plasma Gun
Troops: Plague Marines (6) w/2x Blight Launcher, Champion w/Plasma Gun

Elites: Plague Surgeon [4 PL, 60pts]: Balesword, Relick: Fugaris Helm

Fast Attack: Myphitic Blight-haulers Unit (x3) [21 PL, 351pts]

Death Guard Super-Heavy Auxiliary Detachment (470 pts, 0 CP)

LoW: Mortarion

Nurgle Spearhead Detachment (528 pts, +1 CP)

HQ: Chaos Sorcerer w/Jump Pack (Legion: The Purge), Bolt Pistol, Force Sword, Mark of Nurgle

HS: Plagueburst Crawler [8 PL, 136pts]: 2x Entropy cannon, Heavy slugger
HS: Plagueburst Crawler [8 PL, 136pts]: 2x Entropy cannon, Heavy slugger
HS: Plagueburst Crawler [8 PL, 136pts]: 2x Entropy cannon, Heavy slugger

List 2

In this second list, we look at what bringing Poxwalkers might still be like. It’s not my favorite way to run Death Guard, but for all the folks out there with Poxwalkers desperate to use them, here’s the basic option. Here we’ve got Typhus and Necrosius palling around, giving the 37 Poxwalkers a boost to Strength and Toughness and the ability to re-roll Disgustingly Resilient rolls of 1. That should help these guys move into position and hold ground while screening the Blightlord Terminators and helping capture objectives. I don’t think they’re as good as Plaguebearers overall, but they have to be killed to a man to be taken off the table and they’ll be a pain to remove. Meanwhile we’re also playing with a drill full of Plague Marines and a Foul Blightspawn, where we can either hold them back to capture objectives or put them all in the drill and throw them at the opponent if we need a crazy forward bullet. Finally the Daemon Prince and Plagueburst Crawlers are there to do what they always do.

A list with Poxwalkers - click to expand

2,000 points, 9 CP

Death Guard Battalion (1,397 points, +5 CP)

HQ: Typhus
HQ: Necrosius the Undying

Troops: Plague Marines x6 w/2x Blight Launcher, Champ w/ Plasma gun
Troops: Plague Marines x6 w/2x Blight Launcher, Champ w/ Plasma gun
Troops: 20x Poxwalkers
Troops: 17x Poxwalkers

Elites: 10x Blightlord Terminators w/Bubotic Axe + Combi-Bolter, 2x Blight Launcher, 2x Flail of Corruption
Elites: Foul Blightspawn

Dedicated Transport: Termite Assault Drill

Death Guard Spearhead (600 points, +1 CP)

HQ: Daemon Prince of Nurgle with Wings, Malefic Talons, Relic: Suppurating Plate

Heavy Support: Plagueburst Crawler
Heavy Support: Plagueburst Crawler
Heavy Support: Plagueburst Crawler

Chaos Soup with Death Guard

List 1

We have a lot more options if we open things up to including daemons.

In this first list, modeled off Mark Towns’ LGT list, you’re basically running Death Guard with a minimal Battalion of Nurgle Daemons filled with Nurglings to drop on objectives, hoping the big threats occupy our opponent long enough for the little daemons to score us some progressive points. The Plagueburst Crawlers still sit back and do their thing, but now we’ve got more long-range firepower in the form of two Hellforged Deredeo Dreadnoughts that can put in work against screens in time for our Blightlord Terminators to arrive on the scene.

Death Guard and Daemons - click to expand

1,996 pts

Death Guard Spearhead (1,640 pts, +1 CP)

HQ: Daemon Prince of Nurgle with Wings, Suppurating Plate, Malefic Talons
HQ: Necrosius the Undying, Warlord

Elites: Blightlord Terminators x10, w/Bubotic Axe, 2x Blightlauncher, 2x Flail
Elites: Foul Blightspawn

HS: Hellforged Deredeo w/Butcher Cannon Array, Greater Havoc Launcher, Twin heavy bolter
HS: Hellforged Deredeo w/Butcher Cannon Array, Greater Havoc Launcher, Twin heavy bolter
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/2x Plaguespitter
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/2x Plaguespitter
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/2x Plaguespitter

Nurgle Daemons Battalion (356 pts, +5 CP)

HQ: Poxbringer
HQ: Poxbringer

Troops: Nurglings x3
Troops: Nurglings x3
Troops: Nurglings x3
Troops: Nurglings x3

List 2

This is more the kind of list you expect to see Death Guard in at the highest competitive levels, essentially focusing on adding a small number of high-impact units to support a larger strategy. I’ve chosen this list, piloted by Jonathan Jones to a 4-1 and 54th place finish at the London GT, over one heavy on Dreadnoughts because it emphasizes the utility of Blightlord Terminators in the post-Hateful Assault world, and because honestly Deredeo and Leviathan Dreadnoughts are going to be more effective run as The Purge most of the time.

This list is similar to the Nurgle/Thousand sons lists that saw success earlier this year, only it swaps out the Bloodletters and Hellforged Contemptor Dreadnought for a squad of Blightlord Terminators and a pair of Foul Blightspawn. Otherwise it’s still got many of the same tricks – the Plaguebearers control the board and are hard as hell to kill, making them great for holding objectives and not giving up points to the opponent for killing a unit. It runs Ahriman and Two Daemon Princes as its Thousand Sons to fly around Smiting at 24″ while hiding behind the Plaguebearers and charging anything that comes close, using their mortal wounds to destroy a unit per turn in the ITC format. The Foul Blightspawn act as the army’s anti-flyer insurance, while the horrors can deep strike with the Changecaster to wreak havoc on enemies with lots of shots, something the army otherwise lacks. The 98 Reinforcement points lets you either summon, or add a crapload of blue and brimstone horrors to the table as the pink horrors die, preventing the loss of a unit.

Finally the Blightlord Terminators don’t act so much as a teleporting threat here as they do an advancing one that can hold objectives and use Cloud of Flies to hide, or counter-charge units that come close to the Plaguebearers. Alternatively, it can help screen the characters in the army.

”Daemons,

1,902 Points, 10 CP

Chaos Daemons Battalion (745 pts, +5 CP)

HQ: Changecaster
HQ: Sloppity Bilepiper

Troops: 20x Pink Horrors w/Instrument
Troops: 30x Plaguebearers w/Instrument + Icon
Troops: 30x Plaguebearers w/Instrument + Icon

Thousand Sons Supreme Command (491 pts, +1 CP)

HQ: Ahriman
HQ: Daemon Prince w/Wings, Talons
HQ: Daemon Prince w/Wings, Talons

Death Guard Vanguard Detachment (666 pts, +1 CP)

HQ: Nurgle Daemon Prince w/Wings, Talons

Elites: 8x Blightlord Terminators, 6 w/Axe + Combi-bolter, 1 Flail of Corruption, Champion has Balesword + Combi-Bolter
Elites: Foul Blightspawn
Elites: Foul BlightSpawn

Army Reinforcement Points: 98

 

Final Thoughts

Well that about wraps things up. Hopefully by now you’ve got a good idea of what’s going to work and what won’t in your Death Guard army, and you’ve got the foundation you need to start experimenting. As always, if you’ve got a question or comment about the article or your army, feel free to drop us a question in the comments below, or email us at contact@goonhammer.com. We’re always happy to hear from readers!

 

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